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A Night of Firsts for the Avengers

Pro football: L.A. scores early and often in defeating New York, 43-25, in opener before 13,142 at Staples Center.

April 20, 2002|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Avengers accomplished something Friday night that they were unable to do in their first two seasons in the Arena Football League.

It's the first time the Avengers (1-0) have been above .500.

A 43-25 victory over the New York Dragons before 13,142 at Staples Center was the kind of win the team has sought to build interest in the team.

Wide receiver Chris Jackson, who has switched from being a two-way player to an offensive specialist, had a game to remember.

The former basketball standout at Santa Ana Mater Dei High who turned to football at Washington State, tied a team record with five touchdowns. Four came on receptions, the last one being 19 yards to give the Avengers a 40-18 lead.

The four touchdown receptions were a career high for Jackson, who also had a career high in receptions with 12, good for 145 yards.

"Getting the victory was the most important thing," Jackson said. "Any one of the wide receivers can have a big night in this system. Tonight was just my night."

It was also a successful starting debut for quarterback Tony Graziani, who played in two games last season as a backup. Graziani completed 26 of 39 passes for 273 yards. He threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score.

Benefiting from the efforts of Jackson and Graziani was Ed Hodgkiss, who won his first game as an Avenger coach.

The Avengers showed other signs this could be a turnaround season.

Defensively, they exploited the inexperience of Dragon quarterback Danny Ragsdale. The former University of Redlands standout, making his first Arena start after spending last year as a backup to Aaron Garcia (now in the NFL with the 49ers), was sacked four times and intercepted by Avenger defensive back Derek Grier. He passed for 129 yards, completing 13 of 24 attempts.

The 25 points scored by New York were the fewest ever by an Avenger opponent. Last year, Los Angeles held Oklahoma to 33 points.

"I was probably more impressed with the defense tonight," Hodgkiss said. "Our linemen got a lot of pressure on [Ragsdale]. The secondary was able to play a lot of man coverage, and they were lined up against some pretty good receivers."

The schedule gets more challenging for the Avengers. L.A. must go on the road to play Arizona, Dallas and defending Western Division champion San Jose before returning home to face Tampa Bay.

All but Dallas, an expansion team, made the playoffs last season.

Jackson started his big game with a 15-yard touchdown reception on the Avengers' second play.

His second touchdown came on a two-yard run late in the first quarter. And Jackson continued to torment the Dragon secondary with two more touchdown passes from Graziani, each covering 14 yards.

As the half ended Jackson already had seven receptions for 89 yards. Graziani threw for 158 yards in the half, completing 13 of 20.

But Graziani also had a couple of turnovers that helped the Dragons stay in the game.

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